The Florida Gators and the Michigan Wolverines will renew acquaintances at the 51st Annual Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This time, Michigan comes into the game with a 10-2 record, with their season bookended by losses to Notre Dame and rival Ohio State. Many believed those losses prevented the Wolverines from appearing in the College Football Playoff, however Michigan knows this year’s Florida team is different than all others from the past.
“Maybe for the older guys. I mean it’s only the second time I’ve played them,” said Michigan offensive lineman Ben Bredeson. “They’re two different schemes, different guys. It’s a different team than it was last year. So we prepare for them just like any other team. It’s not like they’re in our own backyard and we’re watching them every single week like Big Ten guys, so you’ve got to do a little extra research.
The Gators, in their first season under new Head Coach Dan Mullen, finished second in the SEC East. Although the Gators come into this game with three losses, Mullen realizes the importance of Saturday’s contest.
“I do know that this game has a direct correlation on how we’re going to feel between now and the start of next year,” explained Mullen. “If we win this game, we’re going to finish in the top 10 and have high expectations going into next season, but you’re also going to have an awful lot of confidence going into that offseason- the energy and the boost that it can give you. You know you play on Dec. 29 and we don’t play again until Labor Day next year. That’s a long time to not be smiling that whole time. You want to be smiling after the win. I love that feeling. You win that last game and you leave on a high note.”
Quality quarterback play is a major key in Florida’s spread option offense, Felipe Franks leads the Gators offense and is supported by running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett.
“It’s helped me become a better quarterback, a whole quarterback, whether it be leadership or actually playing a game,” said Franks Thursday. “And just going throughout the season, knowing I wasn’t playing on a short leash helped me to go out and play freely. Each game, growing with my teammates, having their trust and trusting in me to make plays when I need to make plays and let them make plays when they need to make plays.”
As for the Wolverines, they will go as far as Shea Patterson takes them. Although Patterson threw for three touchdowns in their 62-39 loss at Ohio State, Patterson has looked comfortable in Harbaugh’s offense throughout the season.
“He probably trusts the offense a little bit more when you talk about his improvisation,” Mullen said Monday. He’s going to hang in the pocket a little bit longer and he’s going to trust the system and not all of a sudden try to take off and make a play. He is going to trust the system a little bit more.”
Both teams have stout defenses. The Wolverines are first in the country in total defense, meanwhile the Gators’ defense is ranked 24th in the nation.
“It’s been — we started off playing a really good team in Notre Dame and lost a tough one down there, said Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Then we won ten straight games. Team played really good against a lot of really good ball clubs, and didn’t play our best game on November 24th.
Since that time, we’ve been preparing for this game, this ball game against Florida. Want to go out on a great note playing our best football. That’s what it’s going to take in this game to have a chance to win and be successful, and that’s our goal. Playing our best against a really good team.”